Years ago, Minnesota’s beer was generally fizzy yellow stuff. You know the type. Then a few craft brewers started producing beers with a little more flavor and variety. Now the craft beer scene is hopping: You can get IPAs, brown ales, farmhouse-style ales, and even a tripel. Yes, tripel—that blond, sweet, highly alcoholic brew usually associated with Belgian monks.
But it’s not a monk who’s behind the Brimstone Tripel, nor is it a Belgian. It’s Kevin Welch, a freelance French horn player who loves Belgian beer. Welch’s Boom Island Brewing Company started production in December in Minneapolis, in a warehouse near its namesake.
“It’s a homebrew hobby that went radically out of control,” Welch chuckles. Welch was introduced to Belgian beers shortly after finishing his graduate program studying the French horn. (You might have seen him in recent months playing with the Minnesota Orchestra and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.) About five years ago, after years of homebrewing and a couple of fact-finding, yeast-gathering trips to Belgium, Welch started planning his brewery.
“Our whole idea was to do real, true bottle-conditioned Belgian-style ales,” he says. “There’s not another brewery in the region that I’m aware of that’s doing just straight-up Belgian.”
His lineup includes the Silvius Pale Ale, Thoprock IPA, Hoodoo Dubbel, and Brimstone Tripel, all made by a Belgian process with Belgian yeast.
“In Belgian beer, the yeast is especially important,” Welch explains. Fermenting it at high temperatures releases the spice-like flavors that make Belgian beers unique. Welch’s Hoodoo, for example, is smooth and bittersweet with a slight banana flavor. It’s also really strong, at 8.5 percent alcohol. “That’s very much a Belgian angle also,” Welch says. His tripel tops out at 9.5 percent. To put that in perspective, Hamm’s is 4.7 percent and Bud Light is 4.2 percent. The higher alcohol content comes from extra doses of fermentable sugar, Welch explains. A dubbel has a second shot of sugar, and a tripel has a third.
Boom Island’s first two kegs were tapped in late December at the Pig & Fiddle in south Minneapolis, and you also can swig its brews at Eli’s East in Northeast Minneapolis. At press time, Welch was personally delivering his cork-topped, 750-milliliter bottles to only three bottle shops—The Four Firkins in St. Louis Park, the Ale Jail in St. Paul, and South Lyndale Liquors in Minneapolis—but he’s optimistic his retail presence will grow quickly.
Keep an eye on Welch’s website, boomislandbrewing.com, for updates on where to find his beers.